War museum rises a notch

Boost in status for Vietnam War museum

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INCOMING: A visitor to the museum checks out an Iroquois helicopter. Converted ito gunships by the Australians, the choppers were known as Bushrangers and were used to avoid relying on the Americans for fire support.

INCOMING: A visitor to the museum checks out an Iroquois helicopter. Converted ito gunships by the Australians, the choppers were known as Bushrangers and were used to avoid relying on the Americans for fire support.

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Vietnam Veterans' Museum on Phillip Island reopens with feather in its cap from its peers.

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With its penguin parade, wildlife park and premium motor racing events, Phillip Island draws millions of tourists from around the world.

It also boasts another unique attraction - the National Vietnam Veterans' Museum - which recently gained accreditation by Australian Museums and Galleries Association Victoria, a huge boost to its reputation.

The museum dates back to the mid-1990s when San Remo's John and Krishna Methven drove a Land Rover and trailer full of personal memorabilia around Australia to promote a broader understanding of the Vietnam War.

As the collection grew, the couple moved it first into their garage, then to a shop site and finally to a hangar next to Phillip Island Airport, where the museum opened in 2007.

Today it boasts a collection of more than 40,000 items, ranging from medallions and commemorative pins to restored vehicles and aircraft.

General manager Phil Dressing said it had boomed over the past decade. "The support of veterans has been amazing - so many have donated memorabilia, and it's still happening," he said.

Donations have included a Centurion tank from Grocon's Bruno Grollo, while the Vietnamese community has been highly supportive.

A notable donation was the uniform worn by Major Tran Dinh Tu, who led a troop of South Vietnamese rangers that defended Saigon until the city fell.

"The city was under heavy attack and he gave his rangers a choice to return to base or fight with him to the end," Phil said. "About 90 stayed and by the time they'd run out of ammunition 13 remained.

"They were captured and Major Tu was ordered by the North Vietnamese to remove his insignia from his uniform - he refused and was executed along with the 12 others.

"The uniform itself was worth very little, but the story is priceless."

Also priceless are the South Vietnamese government medals and ribbons - the only such collection in the world.

Phil is one of several staff who, along with 90 volunteers, run the museum, cafe and shop.

BEER NECESSITIES: A photo of a truck delivering a ration of amber fluid is also displayed.

BEER NECESSITIES: A photo of a truck delivering a ration of amber fluid is also displayed.

"All volunteers live locally. Around 20 to 25 per cent are veterans," Phil said.

"As well as maintaining an important cultural and historical collection, we have a big education program. Many school groups visit during the year."

Normal opening hours have resumed, but at present only 20 visitors are permitted in the museum and the Nui Dat Cafe at a time.

The museum is in Veterans Drive, Newhaven. It is open 10am-5pm daily, with live music at the cafe every Saturday from 12-4pm.

5956-6400, vietnamvetsmuseum.org

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